Love's Old Sweet Song
Kathryn Rudge presents a recital disc of songs and ballads in English, written between 1823 and 1945 by British composers whose lives were affected by the great war.
Amongst the selection of songs are nostalgic gems by Eric Coates, Alan Murray, Ivor Novello (We'll Gather Lilacs) and Haydn Wood's famous songs of the First World War Roses of Picardy.
Also included are Roger Quilter's beautifully melodic Seven Elizabethan Songs and some passionate songs of Edward Elgar's, written prior to the outbreak of WW1. Works composed by serving WW1 soldiers include: William Denis Brown (To Gratiana Dancing and Singing) and Ivor Gurney's haunting compositions from the trenches Severn Meadows and By a Bierside.
The selection concludes with Frank Bridge's dramatic Love went a-Riding (1914) and Benjamin Britten's setting of the timeless Last Rose of Summer.
Kathryn writes " The sentiments of these pieces still resonate strongly in our lives today, never more so than when we remember them in relation to the events of the past".
These songs are often dismissed in modern times as being simply 'sentimental' and the stuff of Victorian and Edwardian drawing rooms, but at the heart of the music is something of value.
Kathryn Rudge is a highly acclaimed young mezzo-soprano who studied at the RNCM and received numerous awards and prizes including a Kathleen Ferrier Bursary. She is joined on this recording by James Ballieu, a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship Award winner in 2012, Royal Academy of Music Professor of piano and described by the Daily Telegraph as 'in a class of his own'
"... Her cleanly produced tone, supple musical phrasing and sensitive colouring of words combine with a vividly attractive stage personality to make something special' The Telegraph, 2013
- Sleeve Notes
'Gratitude for the delights, the inspirations, the consolations, of English poetry is happily widespread,' observes Christopher Ricks in the preface to the latest edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse. Interest in poetry anthologies has, if anything, grown in recent years, driven by public hunger for collections such as Neil Astley's Staying Alive and Being Alive. The subtitle of Staying Alive ' 'Real poems for unreal times' ' offers a clue to the volume's success, as does Astley's assertion that the book is 'about what poetry means and how it can help us as people'. While the meaning of individual poems can be elusive, their spirit so often resonates deeply within readers and listeners. Small wonder, then, that the breathtaking range of English poetry, the transcendent power of even the simplest lyrics, and the rich imagery produced by everyone from peasant poets to royal rhymers have inspired composers to apply their art and craft to the musical setting of verse of all kinds, sometimes sublime, sometimes mundane, sometimes downright popular.
Kathryn Rudge has built a recital of English song open to emotions all too often suppressed or dismissed today, the 'sentimental' stuff of Victorian and Edwardian drawing rooms. A century and more of abstract thinking, of scientism and dogmatic belief in material progress, not to mention the catastrophic outcome of world wars, revolutions and man-made disasters, has inevitably reduced sentiment's stock. And yet there remains in sentiment something of true value, something that can cross the veil dividing the rational and analytic mind from its irrational and intuitive counterpart. Alan Murray's 'I'll walk beside you', written around the time of Edward VIII's abdication, offered optimism and hope to brighten the 'dark valley' of the interwar years. The ballad's instant appeal arose from the same cosy ground of comfort and stability that supported J.L. Molloy's 'Love's old sweet song', written in the 1880s and later immortalised by James Joyce in Ulysses, Roger Quilter's sensuous, seductive 'Love's philosophy', written for and dedicated to the fine English tenor, Gervase Elwes, and Elgar's 'Speak music!'
Edward Elgar has been criticised, quite fairly, for riding roughshod over the metre of verse in his songs: Shelley's line 'Tell me the stories that I am forgetting' in
'Pleading', for example, receives particularly unsympathetic treatment. 'I am not a song writer,' he wrote in 1921, 'although a few of such things have achieved popularity.' The composer's choice of poets, Arthur C. Benson of 'Land of hope and glory' fame and Lady Elgar among them, also begs questions about his commitment to song. The most important question, however, concerns whether Elgar's solo songs own the expressive qualities required to overcome criticisms of their technique and texts. 'Pleading', written in 1908, carries the open-hearted listener beyond thoughts of compositional refinement deep into the melancholy of Shelley's verse. The song certainly 'achieved popularity', helped by Elgar's orchestration of it and healthy sales of the original version for voice and piano. Another popular success, 'In Moonlight', was born in 1904 as a solo viola melody in Elgar's concert overture In the South (Alassio). He subsequently extracted his wistful tune and fitted Shelley's verse to it.
William Denis Browne's life was cut short by enemy fire in battle in Turkey in June 1915, not long after he had buried his friend Rupert Brooke. Browne studied classics at Clare College, Cambridge, and took the MusB degree in 1912. The following year he created the song by which he is best known today. 'To Gratiana dancing and singing' was written for another friend, the tenor Steuart Wilson, who became a significant player in the development of English song and singing in the post-war decades. Browne cultivated an archaic atmosphere in setting Richard Lovelace's verse, fashioning the song's accompaniment from the melody of an anonymous 'Allmayne' preserved in Elizabeth Rogers's Virginal Book of 1656. The soaring vocal line summons vivid images of Gratiana dancing and captivating the hearts of her admirers. The critic Dennis Arundel, writing in 1926, described 'To Gratiana' as 'one of the few great English songs written by a recent British composer: it will live after all the Warlocks and Vaughan Williams'. His prediction may have been overstated but stands as an honest response to the extraordinary invention of Browne's song.
With gentle manners and a kind heart, Roger Quilter emerged as one of the most popular British composers of the 20th century's first half. His reputation was made with a series of fine songs, 'Go, lovely rose' and 'Love's Philosophy' prominent among them, and committed support from Gervase Elwes, a champion of new work at home and overseas. Quilter's Seven Elizabethan Lyrics Op.12 were composed between July and December 1907, brought together as a collection dedicated 'To the memory of my friend Mrs Cary Elwes [the tenor's mother]'. It appears likely that Quilter and Elwes gave the first performance of the complete set of songs at the Bechstein Hall (now Wigmore Hall) on 17 November 1908.
Although four of the collection's verses were readily available in Francis Palgrave's ubiquitous Victorian anthology, The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics, it seems likely that Quilter turned to multiple sources in his search for Elizabethan and early Stuart lyrics. 'Weep you no more', among the first of the set to be composed, is one of the best of Quilter's songs, its gentle fluctuation between minor and major harmonies and soaring vocal line complementing the poet's impassioned, expectant plea to love. The energy of 'My life's delight' arises from the natural stress patterns of Campion's poem. Quilter suggests the impatience of young love by launching his song with an inverted dominant chord, like a passing fragment of thought, and carries it forward on the back of long-breathed melodies. 'Damask Roses', completed in July 1907, requires considerable artistry from its interpreters to bring light and shade to the song's syllabic setting of a text translated in the late 1500s from Angelo Grillo's madrigal 'Quand'io miro le rose'. Quilter's imaginative art and command of the songwriter's craft combine to enchanting effect in 'Faithless shepherdess'. The song's subtle metrical shifts and intricate piano writing ideally capture the wayward nature of its subject. 'Brown is my love' harnesses the enigmatic contradictions of its anonymous verse to harmonies that ebb and flow between B-flat major and G minor or their close relatives; the haunting lyricism of 'By a fountainside', meanwhile, rests on the song's harmonic stability, the heart-breaking ground for solemn contemplation of a lover's grief. Trevor Hold, in his acclaimed study of English song, describes 'By a fountainside' as 'one of Quilter's finest inventions. Here he is at his most subtle, most gentle, most moving ' most memorable'. Quilter scatters the clouds of despair with
'Fair house of joy', simple and artless of melody yet intricate and inventive in its beguiling pattern of metrical stresses.
The last fifteen years of Ivor Gurney's life, already blighted by psychotic illness, were reduced further by the decision to transfer him from Barnwood Mental Hospital in his beloved Gloucester to the City of London Mental Hospital in Dartford. Although the composer-poet's creativity was deeply scarred by his experience as a frontline soldier in the killing fields of Flanders, it survived and flourished following his initial recovery from shellshock into the 1920s. 'Severn Meadows' and 'By a bierside' belong to the handful of songs that Gurney completed while on active service, the former composed behind the frontline at Caulaincourt in Picardy in March 1917, the latter written at Laventie seven months before. 'By a bierside', as Gurney recalled in a letter dated 16 August 1916, 'came to birth in a disused trench-mortar emplacement'. The composer, aided by John Masefield's steely verse, confronts death head on, fearless and fully aware of its inevitability yet open to the journey that may begin with it. 'Severn Meadows' presents a gentle meditation in words and music on the wanderer's sustaining vision of home.
Art-song was rarely heard on the Western Front. The vast ranks of Lord Kitchener's volunteer army, the cannon-fodder battalions of pals, marched towards the line singing such popular tunes as 'Tipperary' and 'Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag'. In 1916 the violinist and composer Haydn Wood created a sensation with his setting of 'Roses of Picardy', an overtly sentimental ballad penned by the multi-talented barrister Frederick Weatherly. The song, with its lilting refrain, proved a massive commercial success and was eagerly adopted by British troops in France. 'Fred Weatherly, composer of the words, struck a chord in every heart when he penned the lines of a song that spoke of the roses that shine in Picardy, just at a time when the fiercest battle the world has ever known was being fought on the plains of Picardy,' recalled a January 1919 issue of The Music Trades magazine. 'It was indeed a wholesome thought that despite the greatest congregation of artillery, together with shells and all the terrific paraphernalia of war, the Roses would again bloom in Picardy.'
Wood's languid 'Brown bird singing', first published in 1922, sets words by Royden Barrie, the pseudonym of Rodney Richard Bennett. The author, father of the composer Richard Rodney Bennett and librettist of Roger Quilter's light opera Julia, also supplied lyrics for some of Eric Coates's finest songs. Coates served as principal viola in Henry Wood's Queen's Hall Orchestra from 1912 until he was forced to leave in 1919 because of physical ill health. He built a new career on past successes as a composer, progressing to become a household name with pieces such as the valse-serenade By a sleepy lagoon (familiar today as the signature theme to Radio 4's Desert Island Discs), the marches Knightsbridge and The Dambusters, Calling all workers and the concert suite London. Coates tailored an instantly memorable melody to the simple words of Bennett's 'Bird songs at eventide' and applied the best of his craft to 'I heard you singing', a work of rapt tenderness.
Strict boundaries between 'light' and 'serious' music were rarely set and even more rarely observed before the outbreak of Cold War cultural conflicts. Ivor Novello's natural gift for melody and love for song were in part influenced by his musical upbringing in Cardiff and in part by the example of his mother, an outstanding choir trainer and vocal coach. He studied at Magdalen College Choir School in Oxford and received formal lessons in harmony and counterpoint from Herbert Brewer, organist of Gloucester Cathedral, until Brewer decided that his pupil had no chance as a professional musician. Novello clearly thought otherwise. He scored his first success in 1914 with 'Keep the home fires burning', among the First World War's most popular songs. 'My life belongs to you' was written shortly before the outbreak of the next global conflict, conceived as part of Novello's musical spectacular, The Dancing Years. The show, which opened in March 1939, tells the tale of a penniless composer, Rudi Kleber, and his love for two women as it unfolds through the 'dancing years' of pre-1914 Vienna towards the dark days of Nazism's rise in Austria. 'My life belongs to you' is sung by Ceruti in the final scene of Rudi's
operetta Lorelei, an early landmark in the plot of The Dancing Years. 'We'll gather lilacs' was written within weeks of victory over Hitler's forces and first heard as part of Novello's musical romance Perchance to Dream at London's Hippodrome Theatre in April 1945. The song's artless melody and touching lyrics ensured that it became an enduring hit.
Recent recordings and diverse performances have contributed to the revival of interest in Frank Bridge's art. While his name will always be linked to and overshadowed by that of his pupil Benjamin Britten, his finest work stands alone for its individuality and distinction. Bridge, whose catalogue of compositions includes forty-five songs, appears to have discovered Mary Coleridge's poetry in 1914 and set 'Love went a-riding' and 'Where she lies asleep' soon after. The invention of 'Love went a-riding', its pulsating energy and feeling for the poem's inner life, reflects the originality of Bridge at his best; likewise, 'Where she lies asleep' reveals the composer's ability to create lyrical melodic lines of the utmost beauty. Bridge completed 'Thy hand in mine' in 1917, a year of bloody British offensives on the Western Front, conjures up sublime stillness out of subtle harmonies and a melody of yearning eloquence.
Britten's achievements as a songwriter were recognised by reviewers and audiences at a young age. 'One of my chief aims,' he later recalled, 'is to try and restore to the musical setting of the English language a brilliance, freedom and vitality that have been curiously rare since the days of Purcell.' The direct emotional expression and rhythmic inflections of folksong left their mark on Britten's work, absorbed not least through the many arrangements he made for his recitals with Peter Pears. The tune of 'Last rose of summer' is generally believed to derive from an Irish traditional melody, 'The young man's dream', first published in Dublin in the 1790s. Britten's brooding piano accompaniment matches and magnifies the song's pathos.
- Press Reviews
"Outstanding performances of every piece; I loved every minute of it."
“...if you like exceptionally thoughtful music-making, this album is for you”
"Rudge’s voice is golden, rich, and even; her diction crystal clear, and her phrasing superb. Baillieu’s playing is warm and supportive."
- American Record Guide
"Kathryn Rudge has a lovely warm yet focussed mezzo-soprano voice and she sings with a combination of line and superb diction."
"[Rudge] is well supported by James Bailie and the pair treat each song with the same care and sense of seriousness."
- Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill
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